Path of Exile Preview
Path of Exile Box Art
System: PC
Dev: Grinding Gear Games
Pub: Grinding Gear Games
Release: 2013
Players: 1-6
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p
On The Path To Greatness
by Shelby Reiches

Path of Exile may be the rarest of titles, one that provides ample innovation while still honoring the tradition from which it hails. On the surface, it’s naught but a run-of-the-mill point-and-click action-RPG. A Diablo clone, to use the outdated colloquialism. Beneath the surface, though, beats a heart that is both beautifully streamlined and almost endlessly deep, all coalescing about an intuitive core.

The action begins after you choose one of six classes, which initially appear to conform to the playstyles you’d expect, a range that includes stealth and magic along with brute force. This will prove both true and inaccurate in turn. Your chosen character, exiled from his or her homeland for an appropriate crime, washes up on the shore of Wraeclast, the pestilence-ridden, monster-infested land to which prisoners and apostates are banished and confined. Here, you begin in solitary, slaying the risen dead and projectile-spewing insects, defeating a hulking behemoth to gain entry to the game’s first town and social hub.

Path of Exile Screenshot

Here, in Lioneye’s Watch, you’ll receive your first quests from NPCs, meet other players, and learn about the skill and trading systems.

Skills are represented by colored gems—red, green, and blue—which can be slotted into weapons and armor to bestow their associated abilities on the player. Red gems tend to be direct, weapon-based strikes, while green evokes the dexterity stat and draws upon ranged abilities and dual-weapon attacks. Blue is where the bulk of the game’s magic is contained, consisting of primarily elemental abilities that tend to require a high intelligence stat to properly utilize. Often, these gems will have a basic stat requirement and/or a level requirement, though some demand the player use specific weapon types.

Abilities level as long as their gems are equipped, whether or not the player is making use of them, and as they level they become more effective, but also present steeper requirements to use. It is entirely possible for a gem to “outlevel” the character who’s using it. Picking equipment becomes not merely a matter of stats, but of what slots that equipment possesses. This is especially important when Support gems come into play, since they also come in all three colors, but only affect the abilities of gems to which they are “linked,” demanding further specialized equipment.

If all of this sounds confusing, it’s only because of the abstraction of description. In practice, it all makes terrific sense, especially since gems can be removed from equipment and re-slotted with no penalty whatsoever, at any time. Which item they’re equipped in doesn’t seem to affect matters either, characters gaining the same benefit whether Leap Slam is slotted in a sword or the helmet.

Path of Exile Screenshot

Equipment, too, is varied, and the benefits parallel one another nicely, providing mechanical differences rather than merely varying degrees of effect. It’s possible to armor oneself, mitigating incoming damage, or eschew armor for evasion, such that one takes damage less frequently. Maybe your character is focused on possessing and buffing an energy shield, essentially extra hit points that rapidly recharge on their own and provide an initial layer of defense.

The items you find are also part of the trading system, which is truly that. There is no standard currency in Path of Exile. No gold coins, gil, doubloons, or credits that can be used universally to field all purchases. Instead, trading items to NPCs begets scraps of scrolls and shards of gems, which are directly useful in identifying magic items or buffing your equipment. When purchasing equipment and items from traders, the prices are given in appropriate items for trade. Perhaps that sword you’re eying will run you three Scrolls of Wisdom. It makes transactions a more guarded thing, and provides less pressure for the player to pick up every item, or even every magic item, they come across.

Path of Exile Screenshot

This unconventional approach is also touched on in the combat. While, mechanically, it all feels very familiar, with basic attack on left click and special attacks on the right and middle mouse buttons, there is also a hotbar beneath that, which corresponds to the Q, W, E, R, and T keys. It’s fully possible, and even likely, that you will not fill out this hotbar for a long time, if ever. It’s constantly in flux with you swapping out equipment and ability gems.

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